Charlie Blackmon might be an All-Star in 2019. He really might. The Colorado Rockies right fielder is certainly hitting like one — at Coors Field, that is. Blackmon might also be washed up. He’s certainly hitting like it — on the road, that is. Will the real Charlie Blackmon please stand up? This Jekyll and Hyde act he has going on is confusing.
Charlie Blackmon and His Jekyll and Hyde 2019
The facts are incontrovertible. At home this year, Charlie Blackmon is hitting better than Babe Ruth or Ted Williams did in their historic careers. For that matter, at Coors this season, Blackmon is hitting better than Barry Bonds did in the season where he hit 73 home runs. In the friendly confines of home, Blackmon is slashing a ludicrous .452/.504/.983 for an OPS of 1.486. Williams and Ruth were below 1.200 for their careers, and Bonds was below 1.400 in his masterful 2001 campaign. Blackmon has 14 home runs at home, going along with nine doubles and five triples in only 129 plate appearances. He also has a very respectable 12 walks to 18 strikeouts. Basically, as good as anyone has been anywhere, at any time, that’s how good Blackmon has been at home this year.
The road facts are true too. Whatever magical Wonderboy bat Blackmon is swinging at Coors is clearly anchored to the greater Denver area. In 141 plate appearances away from Coors, Blackmon is slashing an anemic .246/.284/.373 for a .657 OPS. He has an identical nine doubles, but only one triple and two home runs with a mere three walks against 28 strikeouts. At home, he’s hitting like an all-time great. On the road, he’s Ozzie Smith without the backflips or defense. What is going on?
Charlie Blackmon vs the NL West
Let’s deal with the obvious first. The Los Angeles Dodgers have an incredible pitching staff. If he has an abundance of at-bats against the Dodgers, that explains part of the problem. Additionally, the San Francisco Giants, Dodgers, and San Diego Padres all play in parks that suppress offense. If most of his away games are there, that might explain the rest of the problem.
The problem is, that while those explanations would be logical, they don’t actually check out. Blackmon has yet to play in Los Angeles this year and has only played four games in San Francisco and two in San Diego so far. He has been putrid at both, with an OPS of .300 in San Francisco and .333 in San Diego. And yes, that is OPS, not OBP. Obviously, those suppress his overall road numbers significantly. However, they also represent only one-fifth of his road games and plate appearances. Six games and 29 plate appearances are mere blips on the radar of a 162-game season, no matter how bad they might be.
Furthermore, historically, Blackmon has hit well in both Arizona (.800 OPS) and San Diego (.798 OPS). He has even managed a respectable .732 OPS at Dodger Stadium. While he has never hit well in San Francisco, and the rest is certainly not Coors-level production, it is not the black hole that 2019 has been. It would seem that NL West parks are only a piece of the 2019 puzzle.
Historically, Blackmon has handled interleague play well, with a .879 OPS. While he has had struggles in certain American League parks, four of his seven worst OPS are in National League stadiums.
It remains a small sample size, but in 2019, Blackmon has played in Tampa Bay and in Boston. Between the two, he has mustered two hits in 23 plate appearances, though the hit in Boston was a home run. He also has 10 strikeouts and no walks in these matchups, suggesting that perhaps being unfamiliar with the pitchers is an issue. It will be interesting to see if he experiences similar struggles when the Red Sox and Rays visit Denver.
Other NL Parks
While Blackmon has struggled in both Pittsburgh and Milwaukee for his career, neither has been the source of his struggles so far in 2019. He has always hit well in Arizona and Philadelphia, and both of those trends seem to be continuing this year. His series against the Mets did not go well this year (.476 OPS in two games), but he hit well in three games in Miami. In other words, the normal vagaries of a season are taking place here, just to greater extremes. So Blackmon’s problem is not confined to specific parks.
The anomaly is not just Blackmon’s performance on the road. He has always demonstrated drastic home/road splits with a career OPS of 1.002 at Coors and .739 on the road. That’s significant. He hasn’t been literally twice as good at home, which is the case this year, but he has been substantially better.
However, this year, it’s not just that his road splits have further declined, it’s that his home splits have strengthened at the same time. If both were in decline, or one was in decline and the other static, it might be assumed that the player was in decline. That isn’t the case here. Where he has always struggled, Blackmon is now worse than ever. But where he has always excelled, he is now stronger than ever too.
Ergo, it would seem that Blackmon is selling out to maximize his strengths and the effect of his home park. He has always had substantially better plate discipline at home (155 walks:292 strikeouts) as opposed to the road (118:407). One of the most plausible explanations is that Blackmon sells out on the road to maximize his power, resulting in more chases and more swings and misses, whereas at home he attempts to maximize contact and let the natural carry of altitude provide the power. This would certainly explain his struggles in San Francisco, where power is suppressed both by the ocean air and the park dimensions. A slightly less plausible explanation is that he actually sends a body double to San Francisco because he is deathly afraid of trolleys, and it is his body double that cannot hit there. Take your pick.
At Coors Field, Charlie Blackmon is taking advantage of his park better than Mel Ott took advantage of the Polo Grounds. He wields mastery over its confines like Rafael Nadal over the French Open. Everywhere else, he’s just another baseball player, but at home, he’s a maestro, and this season is his magnum opus. Whether that makes him great is up for debate, but it’s certainly worth watching and appreciating as it happens. Art does not require your understanding, only your attention. At Coors Field, in 2019, Charlie Blackmon is creating baseball art.
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